By Michelle Witte
ASTANA – Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta made his first official visit to Kazakhstan on June 27 and 28, resulting in agreements on cooperation in military training, as well as cultural activities. Strengthening economic cooperation, however, was the main thrust of discussions, which included proposals for the transport of oil and gas.
At a meeting between Ponta, Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov and the president of KazMunayGas on June 27, the Kazakh side proposed delivering Kazakh gas to Romania, possibly through an extension of the South Stream pipeline, according to a statement from the Romanian government. The Kazakh side also expressed willingness to agree on uranium delivery to the Eastern European nation. Romania, seeking to expand trade relations, proposed that KazMunayGas increase its use of the oil terminal at the Romanian port of Constanta, and suggested establishing flights between Astana and Bucharest.
“Romania has the opening to create true bridges between the European market and the Caspian Sea resources for Kazakhstan’s oil transport projects. We wish that Kazakhstan become a partner in the China-Central Asia/Kazakhstan-Caucasus-Constanta-Danube trade corridor,” Ponta told The Astana Times in an exclusive interview after the visit.
“There are numerous transport opportunities from the Black Sea towards the Danube region and farther, towards Europe. This connection has the advantage of reduced prices and can also connect with the Danube transport system, thus ensuring a cheap, simple connection to Western and Northern Europe. There is also the possibility of setting up a direct flight between Bucharest and Astana, possibly as a part of a route between Astana and Europe,” the Romanian Prime Minister said.
While in Astana, on Juny 27, Ponta said that Romania was determined to develop trade relations in new ways, and that, if markets remained stable, he expects Romanian exports to Kazakhstan to increase by five to ten percent by the end of 2013, and an increase of 10 percent in bilateral trade overall. While energy remains the most important trade sector, the prime minister said his aim was to diversify the range of Romania’s exports to Kazakhstan, saying Romania could become a gateway to Europe for Kazakhstan’s investments.
“Romania offers important investment opportunities and Kazakhstan can become an important market for Romanian products. Kazakhstan remains Romania’s largest Central Asian partner, and Romania can become a European gateway for Kazakhstan’s investments,” Ponta told The Astana Times after his trip. “We have solid economic cooperation. There is a need, however, to intensify the dialogue between the different economic ministries, as the potential of cooperation between our two countries is far from being exhausted.”
“Bilateral trade has evolved favourably over the last couple of years, but there are more opportunities for development,” he said. “We can do better at redressing the trade deficit and diversifying the venues for cooperation. We want an increase of Kazakh investment in the energy field, as well as in infrastructure or tourism. Out of a volume of three billion dollars, the net value of our bilateral trade, Romanian exports are worth only $110 million.”
Many Romanian enterprises in Kazakhstan operate in the oil and gas industry, but there are also Romanian companies providing green energy equipment, electrical equipment and human resource training in Kazakhstan. The prime minister has listed a variety of other products as new possibilities for export, including agricultural machinery, aircraft, automobiles, ready-made garments and organic food, among other possibilities.
The agreement on the training of military personnel, signed by Kazakhstan Deputy Defence Minister Imanzhusup Akpombayev and Secretary of State for Strategic Affairs of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bogdan Aurescu on June 28, covers the training of personnel in educational institutions as well as improving officers’ qualifications. “Military cooperation between Kazakhstan and Romania is in its initial stage,” said Akpombayev after the ceremony. “This document will allow the intensification of bilateral cooperation in military education and training.”
The two countries have recently stepped up their inter-parliamentary communications with meetings between members and heads of the two legislative chambers occurring in April and May.
“We wish to strengthen bilateral relations both at the parliamentary level and the inter-governmental level. I wish that the relationship between the two countries’ legislatures will become more complete and more complex, including not only a political component, but also an economic one,” Ponta said.
“For the moment, the most important area in the field of bilateral relations is the economic area,” Ponta continued. “However, we consider the political part of our bilateral relations an important aspect of our interaction and we fully appreciate the elevation of the rank of Kazakhstan’s diplomatic representation [in Romania] from a diplomatic mission to the embassy level, in March 2012. This aspect is relevant for the development of the political dialogue between our two countries.”